Hillie: small village survival expert and writer. Her children Toby & Lottie aged 8 and 6.
Anna: local best friend. Mum and professional cake maker/decorator and her twins Marcus and Miles aged 9. Important – her Husband is called Ben.
Lorelle: newbie mum to the village (American) and her daughter Rumer aged 7.
Dawn: soft play centre reception worker.
Nameless Yoof employee: the one with the disinfectant.
It rained and rained in our corner of Devon last week. It pelted, piddled, hailed, lashed, thrashed, pee-ed down and was consequently dark and dingy! Our village’s ancient drains can’t actually cope with downpours so we get a rather smelly sewagy backwash that bubbles prettily at the top of the drain vents. Nice.
However, every rain filled cloud has a silver lining and one thing about being holed up in the stinky village – and having to actually do some work – is that the rest of my novel Twelve days and the Thatcher was finally completed (well, first VERY shoddy draught anyway – and as Ernest Hemingway once said ‘The First Draught of Anything is Sh*t’). ALSO, I’d sent off the first four (polished if you will!) chapters to my Literary Agent, Rebecca. I’d received a cursory email receipt from her long suffering assistant Jen, but no comment as yet from the great Lady Literary Agentness herself! (My book stuff explained in 1.Village Survival, starting from now! )
Last week’s incessantly rubbishy wet weather seemed to drive my kids a bit nuts, especially as they couldn’t run around outside in the garden after school or ‘shake it off’ on the Village Green. By Thursday Anna my (local BF) had decided there was only one thing for it – to brave ‘The Old Hay and Soft Play Barn.’ This is a cavernous soft play centre housed in a large, airless and windowless converted farm building not too far from our village. So after school pick up we made haste with joy in our hearts (unfortunately not) to this indoor playing emporium.
On opening the doors we were greeted by a stenchful wave of fried food, sweaty apparatus and parental despair – which hit us with full force. Due to the onslaught of bad weather, every parent within a 20 mile radius had come up with the same stupid plan as us! The place was heaving and teeming with ‘big’ school kids plus babies, toddlers and preschoolers accompanied by squawking Nans and zombiefied Mums (caused by severe lack of sleep, personal space and habitual 5 a.m starts.) We’ve all been there.
So anyway, ‘Soft Play’ is written about frequently on blogs so I’ll just tell you briefly my hard giddy limits and then I can crack on with the rest of today’s story…..now if you’re sitting comfortably? No? then you’re probably parked your arse on Sophie the Giraffe or a sharp piece of ninjago lego.
My Soft (Play) Limits and Hard (Giddy) Limits.
- On entry we are likely to be met by a young female employee – she is wearing the eye squintingly brightly coloured staff teeshirt emblazoned with the soft play logo and her name badge ‘Dawn’. She’s a yoof, she is physically unable to muster a smile but can tap out a two hundred character text message in under 10 secs. She already hates me and my noisy kids as much as she hates her hideous uniform and the fact that her job just gets in the way of being on What’s App and Snapchat. But she takes a moment to enjoy watching me wince at the extortionate entry price and sniggers when I shuffle through the turnstile/gate thingy just as it twangs back and catches me right in the lady garden!
- The coffee is never not crap (ok some of the newer swankier soft play centres might be offering something more palatable) and the gnat’s pee tea is no better either -it tastes like the sweepings off the tea factory floor – I’ve taken to bringing a small flask!
- The toilets are worse than most petrol station loos and there’s always someone changing a huge baby/toddler with the worst apocalyptic nappy on the communal changing mat – which itself, should be isolated and treated accordingly in a medical tent at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London. Oh and there’s loads of dusty chips on the floor.
- The tables are piled high in detitrus, some of which is undescribable waste matter and at best – the surface is cleared, but so sticky that you’ll strip off a layer of skin if you’re foolhardy enough to rest your arms on it???
- Expensive and crap snacks! I don’t want to buy my kids a smartie cookie the size of their face or a lame ass bag of raisins so often I’ll smuggle my own snacks in- Anna thinks it’s mortifying but it’s my pathetic attempt at railing against Soft Play rules and domination!
- “I love peeling cold squashed chips off the bottom of my children’s socks” said by no one ever! This is one of my personal unfavourites and is a Soft Play low for me every time. It is also a timely reminder that my gag reflex is in fact in full working order!
- The moody yoof (Dawn) is still on at reception when we want to escape and makes me stand about waiting while she unwelcomes in twenty or so queueing parents through the crotch banging turnstile before she deigns to open the security gate for us to leave. When I get to finally exit the building with two over exited and over wrought kids:
- I have Tinnitus with a side order of ear ache.
- Vitamin D deficiency and the onset of SADs (due to the enforced incarceration without windows).
- A migraine building after 2 hours of being subjected to wall to wall strip lighting and lurid staff teeshirts as well as the early pimply signs of acne from finishing the kids unwanted curly fries.
However! Soft Play Centres are having the last laugh because half their target market is absolutely delighted with the service, activities and ambience, not to mention the USP – no not Unique Selling Point – Unfettered Smelly Playing! But as business models go – it could be tightened up a bit with #coffee that wouldn’t strip floor paint #tables free of gloop and gunge #non snatch banging turnstiles #a platoon of well trained Nannies to help out despairing parents #the eye wateringly bright staff teeshirts toned down a tad….you get my drift.
Ok, so I’ll crack on with the rest of the story. We found the only available table which was of course sticky and stained blah blah and located next to the toddler ‘compound.’ We’d barely put our bags down when I overheard an anxious and mortified Mummy explaining to a particularly spotty male yoof employee (in the fluorescent polo shirt – throwing about disinfectant and distain in equal measures) that she was “Just trying to potty train her toddler”. His look of revulsion was unbridled as her child’s wee dribbled down the toddlers slide and pooled nicely on the warn out mat at the bottom. I smugly took a moment to think ‘poor cow, I remember those days’.
Once ensconced, Anna’s twin boys Miles and Marcus ran off with Toby to play in the ‘big kids’ area while Lottie hung back. Marvellous! I’d paid £5 for her to stand about demanding to play games on my phone, and whining for snacks (she knew of old I was a snack smuggler and had some about my person!). Anna looked glum which was perfectly understandable considering she had been in a softplay centre for approximately 5 minutes. Luckily Lorelle (new Mum in the village, & American) finally turned up with her daughter Rumer, who grabbed Lottie by the hand and they tore off into the midst of the climbing area. Lorelle seemed unusually downcast too. Flamin’ soft play, it was such a zapper of parental life force!
“Hows the coffee here?” asked Lorelle innocently as she prized her elbows off the sticky table leaving two tufts of pink cashmere affixed to the surface. Rookie mistake!
“Sh*t!” Anna and I mouthed together, scowling.
So the next two hours passed off….I’d like to report that we hardly saw our kids (who, lets face it were all over 6 and should therefore just be off and doing right? And that we ladies spent the whole time chatting and catching up on gossip) errr no…….we were not ten minutes into our allotted soft play ‘sentence’ when Rumer returned to our table looking perplexed.
“Er, I think Lottie needs you….” she reported waving a finger in the vague direction of Lottie’s whereabouts. I reluctantly extracted myself from the plastic seat which had moulded rather well to my arse and went in search of my errant daughter. I found her half way up a soft play tower in tears.
“I think I may have wee-ed in my knickers…..a lot actually,” more tears, “I didn’t have time to go to the toilet and then Rumer made me laugh – it’s all her fault…..” more crying.
So I had to go and find the gormless yoof, you know – the one dispensing disinfectant and ill-will to fess up that my 6 year old, yes 6 year old had wee-ed on the apparatus. Not so smug now. He ratcheted that look of disdain up a notch and his acne seemed to flash/glow angrily as he climbed up the slimy mats to the offending pee ridden area! As luck would have it, I had a bag of clothes bound for the charity shop in the boot of my car. So I found Lottie an old vest of Toby’s which managed as a ‘top’ and a pair of his outgrown school shorts that just about fitted when I pulled in the elasticated waist. No knickers, she had to go commando. Once changed, Lottie and Rumer returned to the soft play fray.
Lorelle slipped off to use the offensive toilets (she was duly warned) and Anna leant in looking even glummer than before.
“I’ve got some news about Ben…” (her husband) she said just as Toby ran up to our table to tell us that Miles and Marcus were fighting.
Anna shot me a FFS look (I felt her pain) and extracted her moulded arse from her plastic chair. At least it was only in-fighting between the brothers and they weren’t being rough housed up by the resident 9 year old hard nut (with the even harder Muvver).
Lorelle returned to the table, and when Anna had finished seperating her warring twins we ordered the obligatory fried food from the kids menu! Which arrived suspiciously quickly. Freezer, plate, microwave, serve????
Once the children had wolfed their meal (nothing remotely nutritious was harmed in the making) and had been given the last 10 minutes warning which is completely ignored by children the world over, they ran off for their final slice of soft play joy. I checked my phone while Anna wandered off to use the (in)conveniences (I’d rather hold it for two hours myself). That was one good thing about ‘The Hay and Soft Play Barn’ I often got 4G. Go figure! I flicked over Twitter momentarily before switching to my email account…..
“Holy sh*t!” I whispered hoarsely as Anna returned from the toilets.
“Err, pretty sure you can’t say holy sh*t in a soft play centre,” she advised, red faced, as if she’d been crying.
“My Literary Agent has dropped me……” I was incredulous. NO – I was in severe shock.
“Ben is definitely leaving me.” Anna blurted.
“I bloody hate living in a small village,” added Lorelle and we all burst into tears simultaneously…………
More next week.
As you were.
PS. A bit about Anna’s back story: 4. Village survival, 132 cupcakes.
Note to myself: The one about Soft Play Centres and lots of bad news!